7 Ways to Communicate With Declining Elders


Make your facial expression pleasant when appropriate. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, the physical act may boost your own mood. Smiling can also reflect itself in your voice. Unless the situation is better suited to a compassionate expression, smile. When appropriate, try humor. Sharing gentle humor can make someone’s day.

Tone of voice

Speak calmly and gently, letting the person know that you are approaching. Continue with a gentle, caring tone even if the person is upset or agitated. The more calm you seem the more calming you will be to your loved one. Edgy or sarcastic tones will be picked up even if the words are neutral or loving.

Body language

Your loved one will sense that you are angry, tense or frustrated from how you move and the way you assist with dressing, feeding or changing a pad. If you are tense or angry, take a moment alone, out of the room, and practice deep breathing. Remind yourself that the difficult behavior your loved one may be exhibiting is the disease, not the person. In severe situations, ask someone else to help.

Soft touch

Hold the person’s hand, stroke his or her hair, smooth on lotion or give a tender massage if that seems welcome. Be aware of the person’s response so that you know that what you are doing is soothing. If your efforts increase tension, stop and try something else or attempt the process again after some time has passed.


Avoid saying “do you remember…?” since that may add to frustration. If you say, “tell me about your childhood” or “tell me about when you and Mom dated” that leaves room for the person to talk about what he or she does remember. Old photo albums can help with such discussions or you can casually ask the person to tell you about what is on his or her mind.


Play hymns, big band music, Broadway show music, World War II favorites – whatever may bring a smile or moment of fond recognition to your loved one.

Watch old TV shows or movies together

Some of the old favorites like “I Love Lucy” and “Lawrence Welk” are now on DVD and can make great shared entertainment. Old movies may work as well, although they are more of a time investment and your loved one may grow tired. As with all attempts to bond, be sensitive to the response of your loved one. Don’t feel like you’ve failed if what you do isn’t received well. Just try something else later.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at mindingourelders.com.